I really don’t know why it took me this long to commit to reading this book. I don’t consider myself a fan of fantasy, so I don’t think I ever gave The Hobbit a serious look. Actually, I did try to listen to it in audiobook format once, but I was put off by all the chanting (singing). (Sometimes dramatized versions of books are hard to swallow, you know?) Then I read Inkheart, a book in which each chapter is introduced by a quotation from another book (mostly works of fantasy, at that!), including The Hobbit. Before I read Inkheart, I posted The Top 100 Children’s Novels poll and meme and asked my readers which of the books I haven’t read would they consider “must reads.” Sherry listed The Hobbit first. It was a literarily fortuitous coming together of events.
I love this story, but I’m almost afraid to write much about it and show my ignorance. After all, Tolkien is an author about whom much has been written, and I’ve read nothing scholarly about him at all. What I know about him is summed up in the preface of the particular edition of the book I read. Oh, and I know that he and Jack Lewis were friends. That’s it.
Fear of showing my ignorance has never stopped me before, though, has it?
One thing I love about this story is Tolkien’s obvious talent for inventing clever, unique, and melodius names for his characters and objects in his stories. Some of my favorites from The Hobbit include
- Thorin Oakenshield
- the Last Homely House
- the Elvenking
The humor of his naming the goblins such prosaic names as Tom, Bert, and William wasn’t lost on me, either.
I wasn’t expecting this story to be a string of almost separate adventures, but that’s how I came to look at it. Poor Bilbo and his company couldn’t any more get through one obstacle until they came to another. My favorite episode in the book is Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum. Gollum totally creeps me out–I think he’s much scarier than Smaug could ever be. A whispering, hissing . . . what? creature? I’m not sure. . . that converses with himself and calls himself precious. . . it doesn’t get any more goosebump inducing, hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-raising than that.
“What iss he, my preciouss?” whispered Gollum (who always spoke to himself through never having anyone else to speak to).
Something about those double s‘s at the end of the words gets me. Pure genius, that Tolkien.
Of course, what I love most about this story is simply Tolkien’s adroitness with language. That’s the real magic in the story, I think. It reminds me a lot of C.S. Lewis and his way with words, but I don’t know if that’s because I am aware of his and Tolkien’s friendship or if it’s really there. Here are a few of my favorite short passages from the story (I already shared one here!) :
I so identify with Bilbo at times:
“Thank you!” said Bilbo with a gasp. It was not the correct thing to say, but they have begun to arrive had flustered him badly. He liked visitors, but he liked to know them before they arrived, and he preferred to ask them himself. He had a horrible thought that the cakes might run short, and then he–as the host: he knew his duty and stuck to it however painful–he might have to go without. (9)
I love this description of Elrond and his home, the Last Homely House, located in the valley of Rivendell:
He was as noble and as fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer. He comes into many tales, but his part in the story of Bilbo’s great adventure is only a small one, though important, as you will see, if we ever get to the end of it. His house was perfect, whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all. Evil things did not come into that valley. (49)
Tolkien’s comparison here is PERFECT:
Before long the barrels broke free again and turned and twisted off down the stream, and out into the main current. Then he found it quite as difficult to stick on as he had feared; but he managed it somehow, though it was miserably uncomfortable. Luckily he was very light, and the barrel was a good big one and being rather leaky had now shipped a small amount of water. All the same it was like trying to ride, without bridle or stirrups, a round-bellied pony that was always thinking of rolling in the grass. (171)
I know there’s much more to this story than meets the eye or ear. The edition that I read (linked above) includes Tolkien’s own original artwork, I believe, and it also includes the first chapter The Fellowship of the Ring at the end of the story. I’ll admit that I don’t usually like this–it seems like a cheap trick to get me to read the next book in a series, but I bit this time. I think this is one book I’ll follow up on. I would like to study up a bit more on Tolkien. One thing I noticed is that there are Biblical allusions in the story—the similarities between Gandalf and the Old Testament Moses are not lost on me, but I don’t know much else to say besides that. I’m definitely interested in reading more “into” Tolkien.
I’m linking this post up to the Classics Bookclub that happens quarterly at 5 Minutes for Books when it comes around again next week. I’ll also link it up to the I Read It! challenge the next time it comes around. This is a classic I’m so glad I read!